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Why I left you
You were never the one to remember things well. And I endlessly had to forgive you for your poor memory. Last week I turned six. It was December 10th, a date which meant nothing to you. I had spent the past two birthdays wondering if you couldn’t remember that specific day because it wasn’t a public holiday. I thought about it long and hard while trying to keep warm next to the broken heater like an idiot. I couldn’t work out that the problem was never the date. I didn’t even notice that you could name every brand of alcohol out of memory. The problem was me. To you, I was nothing.
There were many things you did which shattered me. You never meant to hurt me intentionally though. I was always certain of that. I raised my hopes up for a better tomorrow so that you could crush me over and over again. Though I went through all this pain, my childish belief that you wanted me was what got me through. Staying with you was an emotional suicide. But I did it for many long years. Most people would probably think I was stupid. But I was six. And that is the only excuse I need to give.
Last week, I got up early. My birthday began with me picking up all the empty bottles from the party you had the night before. The living room was probably one of the nicest rooms in the house. I used to think it deserved to be pretty because it was a place we both shared. But now I realise that it was actually a space for you and your friends to play. It was never a place for me.
I tip toed to your room. I always walked slowly there without myself noticing. Maybe it was a way I mentally gave myself time to prepare for whatever horror I might see inside. That day when I cautiously turned your door knob, I made a pointless wish that you would not be drunk. Children always hope for impossible things. Now I don’t do that anymore.
“Mummy,” I whispered, “Can I come in?
Without waiting for a reply, I quietly let myself in. You were slumped on your chair like a little kid, your head down and your arms wrapped around your knees as if you were crying. To me, you were a child-like mother, so the only thing I could be was a mother-like child. I noticed that on the table next to you there were large empty bottles. I counted them to decide how I should act. There were only three of them. The party probably wore you down before you could have more. So I decided that it was okay to gently shake you.
“Mummy, are you okay?” I asked cautiously.
You raised your head and our eyes met. I could see that your face looked pale and the makeup was smudged everywhere. It made you look creepy but I wasn’t scared.
“Who are you?” you asked in confusion, “where am I?”
It hurt. But I decided not to blame you because you were having a hangover. After you drink too much, you do things without thinking.
“You’re home. You just partied for too long so you can’t remember,” I explained slowly.
I hated having to talk to you like a child, but you just continued to look at me as if you were little kid. I couldn’t blame you for that. I knew you were very young, just twenty one. On your face, there was no sign of maturity and just a lot of makeup. Your thick brown hair was always messed up and you couldn’t take care of yourself properly.
“What day is it mummy?” I asked carefully.
“Wrong day to ask me a question,” you yawned.
I guessed that all the parties and drinks made you lose track of time.
“It’s December the 10th,”
“If you knew then why did you ask?”
I couldn’t detect the tinge of annoyance back then. But now that I look back it is so clear.
“You know, I just wondered of it was a special day or something,”
“Christmas is on the 25th,”
“I know...but...it might be another special da...,”
You stopped me by placing your hand between our faces. You had once explained to me that this meant you didn’t care and didn’t want to hear it. I noticed that you looked tired and angry.
“Look, I’m really tired okay? Just get out!” you snapped.
You clumsily fell on the bed and instantly fell asleep. Then you left me to spend the rest of my birthday waiting for you to wake up by your door. The rags on my body felt thinner than ever in the winter chill and I couldn’t feel my bare feet anymore. I wanted to go back inside your room because the heater actually worked, the bed was warm, and the comforter was soft. But mostly, I wanted to be with you. To a little girl, family means everything. And you were the only family that I had.
Your possessions were all luxurious. You ate delicious food at your parties and your beautiful clothes had lots of numbers on their price tags. I, on the other hand, lived on the scraps of leftover in our trash can and always wore the same old rag which I never seemed to grow out of. My room consisted of an old sheet which I wrapped around my body so that I could use it as a blanket and a mattress. It was unfair. You didn’t think I knew that your love for your pretty things was stronger than your love for me. Adults underestimate children. And that’s how they make mistakes.
When I was five, I saw you sitting on the floor outside your room, a cigarette in your hand and dark circles around your eyes. I approached you because you did not look drunk, just tired. You were always tired.
“Mummy,” I said as I shook you.
You looked up at me blankly and smiled a little.
“Yes darling?” you asked.
“My heater keeps making noises and it never gived out any heat. I think it’s sick,”
You got up and stretched. Then you yawned.
“It’ll be fine,”
You smiled again. But it was just a stretch of your lips.
“Shouldn’t we help it,” I asked, “it’s really cold in my room,”
You shot me an annoyed look. I stopped talking instantly.
“Tell that to someone who cares,” you snapped.
Your eyes were on fire and the look petrified me. I never complained again.
It is true that you got angry at me often. You shouted a lot and told me things that tore me to my core. I tried to forget them. But the more I tried the clearer they remained in my head. I told myself you were drunk when you said those things. And like I said, when you are drunk, you do things without thinking. But I never got over them. And perhaps I never will.
Sometimes you locked me up. Not to watch me suffer, but because you thought I was a disturbance. When you freed me in a couple of days, your face showed no emotions. But if your drinks and parties made you leave me there for weeks, you bashed the door open and cried at my feet. You’d rock and apologise so much that I would actually feel happy about being in there for so long. But you’d lock me up again in a couple of months. And the cycle would start all over again.
Of course it hurt to watch you cry. When you did, you howled as if you were going through physical pain. You wept and moaned as if you were a little kid. No child should ever watch their parents do that. But it was useful in its own ways. It told me you could feel. It told me you had a heart. But most of all, it reassured me that you were human. And it made me stay.
I was a neglected and verbally abused child. No matter how much I try to tell myself otherwise now that I look back, it is a fact. And a fact is always true. Everyone says so.
But I am thankful that you never laid a finger on me.
You were alcoholic and broken down but you weren’t evil.
I will always be thankful for that.
Reality hit me the day after my birthday. When I was sitting on the floor of my dirty cold broken down room, I looked out of a hole in the wall. I never really did but today I was lonely. Do you know what I saw through that hole? I saw children, happy healthy children with sophisticated mothers. I know it was selfish of me but I wanted that. I knew I was quite a sight. But I also knew I didn’t want to be. I watched the way the mothers handled their children and I began to question your love for me. I had never been outside before, but even from that tiny hole I knew what you were doing, though it wasn’t completely your fault, wasn’t right for any child. I wanted a change.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the social workers came that day. I heard the door open and I heard footsteps that somehow sounded different from your friends’. Out of curiosity, I tip toed to the living room.
“I have heard that you have a child. We know about your lifestyle Miss. Anderson and we want to help you. But this child cannot be in your care anymore. We are from the BFYC organisation and we will make sure your child is well looked after,” a man in glasses said.
You just stared at them blankly. A policewoman helped you find a chair and sit down. She looked around the room and our eyes met.
“Is that the girl?” she asked.
You spun around and wore an expression that was a mixture of sadness and anger. I didn’t know what I had done wrong.
“Come here darling,” the policewoman said softly.
I obeyed and went to her. She motioned me to sit on a chair.
“What’s your name dear?” the man asked.
“Lily? Okay Lily, is it okay if I asked you some questions?”
I nodded cautiously and never let my eyes leave his.
“Does your mother hit you or touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable,” he asked sincerely.
I shook my head confidently.
“We know your mother doesn’t look after you properly. She doesn’t feed you, or wash you, or keep you warm or acknowledge you warmly enough often. Is that true?”
I hesitated but I nodded. I didn’t dare look at you.
“Lily, would you like to go live with people who will keep you happy and healthy? They won’t have to be your real mum, just someone you who look after you. Is that okay?”
I nodded. I felt ashamed of my lack of hesitation.
“You need to start school anyway now that you’re six. Tomorrow we will come back and have a temporary home prepared for you. I know the short notice is too much for a little girl but it is all for you. Do you understand?”
I nodded again. The policewoman smiled warmly at me.
“I am certain that there hasn’t been any physical abuse so it would probably be okay to let her stay with her mother for one more night,” she said.
You still stared blankly at them. You weren’t drunk. I am quite thankful for that because you might have done things you would later regret. But you looked really tired. You always looked that way.
“Miss. Anderson, we would like to help you. But this is what’s best for your child. You will need to pull yourself together if you want your child back. I can organise some therapy for you but you would need to co-operate. Is that okay?” the man asked.
You nodded, slowly and uncertainly with a blank expression on your face. You looked smaller than ever. I automatically looked sadly at you. For a second, our eyes met and I noticed that we reflected each other’s expressions. Both our faces looked blank with confusion and had a tinge of sadness. I didn’t know why I was sad. And I definitely didn’t understand your emotions.
The people from the organisation left but we just continued to look at each other. The spell was broken when the door shut. You went upstairs to your room and I just stood there. I felt bad. Actually, I felt terrible for leaving you like this. But I couldn’t live like this anymore.
That afternoon, I went to see you. You were sitting on your table with your feet on the chair. Your messy hair was tied back into a loose ponytail and you looked tired as usual. The cigarette between your lips blew out smoke. I didn’t like it when you smoked, but at least you weren’t drunk.
“Mummy, can I come in?” I asked softly.
I was afraid to speak to you because of what I had done this morning. I stood by your door and waited for you to acknowledge me. But you didn’t, so I cautiously let myself in.
“What do you want?” you snapped.
I was pierced by the tone of your voice but I tried not to show it. You didn’t look at me but I could see the anger in your eyes. There was silence for a while.
“I’m sorry,” I said eventually.
You turned to look at me, sadly but coldly at the same time. You frowned.
“I...I was never....I was never one of those teenagers who wanted a child,” you said quietly.
You stopped meeting my eyes. Another uncomfortable silence filled the air. I was upset. Really upset because you weren’t drunk when you said it. That meant you knew what you were doing. My sadness turned to anger. And when people are angry and hurt, they want others to feel the same way as well. So I glared at you with all the fury I knew of. And then I let it all out.
“I was never one of those teenagers who wanted a child either!” I shouted.
Then I remembered all those days I shivered at your wrath. Every word you said became clearer and clearer until it pierced my mind. I wanted to give you the same pain you gave me.
“I wish you were never born! I would have aborted you the first chance I got!” I snapped.
My eyes were on fire like yours had been that day when you said those words. But it didn’t seem to have the same effect. Your face was a mixture of sympathy and amusement. I didn’t know what you found funny but your look annoyed me so I stormed out of your room. I ran to my cold broken down room and panted with anger. It was only then that I realised something important.
What I said in there, what I shouted and screamed at you, made absolutely no sense at all coming from me.
I realised what I had done. I tried to be strong. I tried to give you pain. But by doing so, I actually let you watch me fall apart. At that moment there was nothing worse than the feeling of weakness.
I tip toed to your room again that night. It was 9pm and I knew you were out. The winter chill was colder than ever but I did not go there for warmth. I sat down on your bed. I never actually sat on it before and the softness of it felt strange. But I didn’t care. To me all that mattered was your grey t-shirt that smelt just like your perfume. I pressed it to my face and the fragrance of you made tears spill on the cloth. I hid under your warm comforter and cried. Cry is probably the wrong word. I howled beneath the covers. I wept and moaned as if I was in pain. I sobbed loudly just like a baby. Just like you.
It was strange. In my memory I never cried. My heart hurt. It burnt and I ran out of breath. It was as if I was being killed by grief. It felt good though. It felt so good to let everything out. I cried for what felt like hours. I cried because no matter how fake your love for me was, I still loved you. It is a simple fact. Once you love, truly love, someone, you can never stop loving them. That was my problem. I loved you and now I couldn’t stop. And I would take my love for you to the grave.
Under the warm covers I cried loudly. I didn’t care who heard. All that mattered was the pain I felt inside. Your t-shirt still smelt of you no matter how much tears it soaked up. Every time I thought of you fresh tears filled my eyes. And I would cry all over again.
“Lily?” your voice said softly.
I stayed still.
“Lily is that you?” you asked again.
I still didn’t reply. You tugged on the sheets, and no matter how much I resisted, the comforter came off. Our eyes met. You saw that I had been crying with your t-shirt. I saw that you had been crying too. You sat on the bed and we just both looked at each other.
“I’m sorry,” you whispered quietly.
Your eyes were red and your face looked pale. It was still dark but I could see the pain in your eyes.
“I’m sorry too,” I whispered too.
You came under the covers next to me. We lay side by side, locked into each other’s eyes.
“Can you stay with me?”
I looked at you. I saw that you meant every word you were saying. I thought in the silence for a while. But I eventually shook my head. I didn’t know how to explain my decision. However I knew I didn’t have to. Your tears, the way you cried and the look in your eyes all told me you already knew why.
We cried, both of us. We cried like babies. We howled in each other’s arms. Though we cried for hours, we never got tired of crying. The snow fell but we were warm under the thick duvet. I knew what it was like to be loved for the first time. And I would never trade that experience for anything else in the world. We slept like that till the morning came. And when morning came, so did the BFYC. And when all of that came, I had to go.
I now live with Angela and her three teenaged kids. They are nice to me but I keep a distance from them. It was all too overwhelming for the girl who never went outdoors. I was just not used to so many people around me. They said they will wait for me to settle in myself. I just nodded and smiled. I do like living with them. It’s sad but true. I am happier inside though the uneasiness makes me hide it. They treat me like family and I have nice things that I never even dreamt of touching. I started the first grade as well. I am in the slow learners group but Mrs. Green said I will soon catch up. Everyone is kind to me but I like being alone and don’t like having too many kids around me. I like to paint and I want to be an artist someday. I know I wouldn’t have all this if I continued to live with you. I had to go my own way and I will always be sorry for that. But do I regret it? The answer would be no. I needed a future mama, and with you, I would never have one. We will meet again soon. No matter what happens, I only have one mother. And she is not Angela. She is you.